The new Touchstone Gallery.
Penn Quarter hasn’t been the sort of edgy neighborhood where scrappy art galleries grow for years, so it came as no surprise when it finally displaced its oldest fine art outpost. Touchstone Gallery, one of the D.C. art scene’s longest-lasting brands, was squeezed out last fall when the building at 406 7th Street NW began a renovation campaign.
When a gallery announces that it’s gone “virtual,” as Touchstone was forced to, it’s usually a bad sign. Virtual may mean working virtually or virtually working—-or, at least that’s been the case over the last few years, which have been marked by galleries shuttering and artists fretting over the psychic prospects of sticking with a shrinking art scene.
But the squeeze in Penn Quarter has offered something that’s been missing from the District since the double-dip recession began taking its toll: reason for optimism. Touchstone Gallery has a new home. And D.C. has a new arts neighborhood. A couple of them, in fact.
Touchstone Gallery has completed a renovation of a new storefront, just up the Green Line at 901 New York Avenue NW. And it’s added artists to its ranks to go with it. It’s always been dizzying to try to keep tabs on the Touchstone artists collective; now its membership has nearly doubled.
The new gallery is up the road from the National Museum for Women in the Arts. While that place doesn’t seem to do jack for local women in the arts—-a sad fact for an art scene mostly run by women—-Touchstone also shares the neighborhood with the sprawling Longview Gallery and Civilian Art Projects.
Civilian Art Projects has a new space, too—-upstairs from its current storefront location, which is next door to the Passenger. Civilian’s Jayme McLellan has a five-year lease on the space at 1019 7th St. NW and the option to renew, and she says she plans to stay for a while. She opens her permanent upstairs space in September, with a private preview party the night before Touchstone holds their own preview. Touchstone’s Artist’s Member Show runs through Sept. 26.
Are the bad times really over for D.C. art galleries?
G Fine Art—-a gallery that many would have described as too big to fail before it closed one year ago—-has moved from the 1515 14th St. NW galleries center to H Street NE. The gallery shares the block with Conner Contemporary, the finest gallery space in the District, providing some synergy in Trinidad that many art followers thought would be lost if the gang at 1515 14th Street NW disbanded due to rising rents.
Yet the rise of Room and Board—-a temple to a different kind of material culture—-has yet to spell doom for Curator’s Office, Hemphill Fine Arts, and Adamson Gallery. Despite the gloomy forecasts of Jessica Dawson and myself last year, the galleries that expressed some concerns (Adamson and Curator’s Office) are still on 14th Street. As is Hemphill. Which is to say nothing of Transformer and Irvine Contemporary, which are just around the corner.
The District has never been a city like New York, whose art scene moves in tectonic shifts (think the move from SoHo to Chelsea). And it’s not L.A., whose art district moves almost seasonally (think Culver City to wherever’s hip lately). The lack of a central hub can be frustrating when it comes time to choose what openings to hit. But having a neighborhood art gallery isn’t such a bad thing.
Photos courtesy Touchstone Gallery